Mid-Month Reflections on Jazz and Beer Greats

by Stephen Beaumont  

The relationship of the following story to beer won’t immediately be apparent, but please bear with me.

Last night, while listening to jazz on the radio, I heard a tale about the storied musician Dave Brubeck and the even more legendary Duke Ellington. It seems that when the two were touring the United States together back in the day, Ellington arrived one afternoon at Brubeck’s hotel room with a newspaper which contained a lengthy story about the latter musician. The great pianist and composer wanted to make sure that the younger artist saw his feature.

The announcer said that Brubeck later described the experience as the best and worst moment of his life. He was obviously happy at receiving the publicity at a relatively early stage of his career, but he was also mortified that this musical great was delivering a newspaper that highlighted Brubeck over Ellington. The way the story was told on the radio, Brubeck felt that all he was doing was following Ellington’s lead, and as such he was far less deserving of the coverage.

Beer can be like that, too.

When you look at the evolution of what I’ve taken to calling the ‘flavourful beer renaissance,’ it has been built by brewers following the lead of the brewers who came before them. As Pete Brown noted on his blog in the wake of the Fuller’s sale to Asahi, Sierra Nevada Pale Ale started life as an attempt to emulate Fuller’s ESB. Sierra Pale then, of course, became a beer for other brewers to emulate, in so doing creating a flow of styles that led to the omnipresence globally of the American style pale ale which begat the American style IPA which evolved – by accident and design – into the American style double IPA and eventually the New England IPA.

In Canada, almost every Belgian influenced beer brewed domestically has a debt of thanks to pay to Unibroue, which led the way in the early 1990s with Blanche de Chambly and Maudite. In Italy, countless brewers can trace their success back to the pioneering days of Birrificio Italiano and Theo Musso’s Baladin. In Mexico, Primus and Minerva paved the way for Fauna and Wendlandt; In Australia, Coopers conditioned the public to beers outside of the cold, wet lager norm so that Stone & Wood and others might follow; and as Neil Miller pointed out on February 10, Epic Pale Ale instigated the Kiwi appreciation of hoppiness that ultimately led to 8 Wired’s Hopwired and many, many others.

And so on. And on. And on.

The point being that virtually all modern beers have had their creation inspired by Flagship beers that have come before, just as I stand on the shoulders of the great beer writing pioneer Michael Jackson. And as I would encourage anyone interested in beer to go back and read Michael’s iconic books, beginning with 1977’s World Guide to Beer and 1993’s Beer Companion, I think that people jumping from Budweiser or Coors Light straight to Central City’s Red Racer IPA or Russian River’s Pliny the Elder deny themselves the joys of experiencing along the way the foundational beers that came before.

Likewise, the rightly acclaimed work of people like Pete Brown and Jay Brooks and Matt Kirkegaard does nothing to diminish the still-powerful effect of Michael’s writings, any more than the deliciousness of that new-release hazy IPA or bourbon barrel Imperial stout does anything to discount the beauty of Great Lakes Canuck or Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout, or Brubeck’s many significant musical accomplishments serve to lessen the impact of the Duke’s Mood Indigo or Take The ‘A’ Train.

It’s all part of, as we say on flagshipfebruary.com “celebrating the beers that got us here,” and the reason why #FlagshipFebruary exists today and likely will again for several years to come.